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The Counterculture of the 1960's is dead. Kaput. History. A little over forty years ago the Summer of Love, one of the iconic events of the Counterculture, took place here in San Francisco. The following year there occurred the world-wide cataclysm of 1968, the emergence of the New Left, which challenged everything across the political spectrum, including the Old Left. However, 1968 in its turn was an echo of 1848, the year that the Communist Manifesto was published, and the suffering urban workers rose up against their nouveau-riche middle-class overlords and the still-powerful aristocracy.
The Counterculture, however, was a cultural movement, not a political one. (One might even think the same of the New Left.) It purported to be the antithesis of the established culture, but there again, it was another kind of echo, an echo of the Futurist art movement which swept Europe including Russia, but emanated mainly from Italy, home of the Papacy and of course the birthplace of the Roman Empire. The Futurists, some of whom later ironically became enamored of Mussolini's Fascism, stood as the opposition to passatismo, or past-ism. The past must be swept away, they preached. And of course there was soon to be another echo, this time in China, where Mao Zedong and his "little red book" attempted to sweep away millennia of China's past.
Did the Counterculture sweep away the established culture here in the USA? In the ungrammatical but emphatic American vernacular: not hardly. Sure, we've still got the hippies and the sexual revolutionaries, and the vociferous critics of Big Business, the "hip capitalists," the open-source high-tech movement , and the escalating dissolution of national boundaries. In my view, however, all of the above are historically as American as the apple pie our grandmothers used to make, though they appeared under different names and in different guises: the religious utopians (the Amish, the Amana Colonies, and even the puritanical Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock), the formerly sexually defiant polygamous Mormons, the communal "complex marriage" of the Oneida Community (look it up!); and self-described Progressives from Teddy Roosevelt through Henry Wallace. Did national boundaries change radically before the 1960's? Ask Mexico. As for the open-source movement, it wasn't always high-tech, but as always there were the unscrupulous opportunists, politicians included, running roughshod over the pioneers. We called it the Wild West. Watch a Deadwood DVD' and you'll see it in action.
If, however, the Counterculture is now dead, as I claim, and it merely recycled American tradition rather than revolutionizing it, why a eulogy? For one, because it was one hell of a party. Secondly, it merged the European discourse, such as Futurism, with the American experience, where lots of folks never gave a damn about the past in the first place. Surely the Counterculture brought new European and Asian ideas to the US heartland. But what about the reverse? Did the Counterculture Americanize the rest of the world? A preposterous, shocking, even blasphemous question, perhaps, but ask Nicolas Sarkozy, and when you're done talking to him, ask Osama bin Ladin.
So if the Counterculture is dead, as I have been saying, how did it die? Simple: it merged fairly seamlessly with the established culture. Karl Marx was a great fan of the German Philosopher Hegel, and an explanation of how the Counterculture of the 1960's could have merged with the established culture can be found in Hegel's theory of the dialectic: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Thesis: We need an established culture. Antithesis: Down with the established culture! Synthesis: It's more fun and a lot easier if you've got 'em both.Permanent Link to This Entry | | | Technorati Tag: Counterculture blog comments powered by Disqus Comments (View)
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